Changes to Penal Code Needed to Help Save Women’s Lives
September 9, 2009
The current law is nothing less than an endorsement for murdering women and girls. The women of Jordan need protection from these vicious acts enshrined in law, not preferential treatment for their killers.
Nadya Khalife, Middle East and North Africa Researcher for the Women's Rights Division

(Beirut) - Jordan should reform penal code provisions that effectively reduce or eliminate punishment for violence against women instead of establishing special tribunals to hear "honor killings" cases, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the Jordanian Ministry of Justice on August 10, 2009.

On August 12, the Jordan Times reported the 14th such killing this year, of a 16-year-old girl by her 39-year-old uncle to "cleanse his family's honor." He shot the girl after learning that his sons had raped her and that she had a child by one of them. Under Jordanian law, murder of a relative believed to be engaged in extramarital sex carries a reduced sentence.

"The current law is nothing less than an endorsement for murdering women and girls," said Nadya Khalife, women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The women of Jordan need protection from these vicious acts enshrined in law, not preferential treatment for their killers."

Last month, the Justice Ministry announced, in response to pressure from women's groups, that it would establish a special tribunal to hear these cases. But special tribunals are not an adequate solution, Human Rights Watch said in its letter, when discriminatory penal code provisions effectively sanction the violence with exemptions and lighter sentences for "honor" crimes. Human Rights Watch urged Jordan to eliminate these exceptions from the penal code.

The portions of the penal code in question include Article 340, which reduces the sentence for killing a relative caught in an "illicit" sexual act (sex outside marriage). Furthermore, Article 98 provides for reduced sentences if the perpetrator committed his crime in a state of extreme "rage." In addition, when the victim's family, which, in "honor" crimes, of course, is also the perpetrator's family, waives its personal right to litigate, then courts have also reduced sentences by up to half based on "extenuating" circumstances provided in articles 99 and 100 of the penal code. However, those articles say nothing about private rights, and it appears that courts have wide discretion to invoke an absence of private rights litigation in order to make a finding of extenuating circumstances warranting a reduced sentence. Efforts to reform the penal code in 1999 and 2000 to address the issue failed due to the obstruction of the Jordanian Lower House of Parliament.

The rates of "honor" crimes in Jordan have remained almost constant over the years. One recent study estimates that an average of 25 killings of women each year fall in this category, (www.stgm.org.tr/docs/1249565780Crimes_of_Honor_June_09_Lubna_Dawany.pdf)

These figures only account for reported crimes and may underestimate the real extent of the problem.

"Jordan needs to send a strong message to perpetrators that they can no longer get away with murder," said Khalife. "It should start by amending the penal code to reflect the seriousness of these crimes and treat them the same as other killings."